Scotland’s people are key to tourism

Warm Scottish welcome makes all the difference, says Mike Cantlay

2014 is a unique year for Scottish tourism. Picture: Jane Barlow
2014 is a unique year for Scottish tourism. Picture: Jane Barlow

JIMMY the taxi driver took me to Glasgow airport. He was in the middle of an interesting tale when we arrived, and instead of just dropping me off, he jumped in the back of the cab to finish his story. I’ll always remember that experience – because it was charming and epitomised the authenticity of Scotland and its people.

I must have told that story a dozen times, and my point is that it’s the people, the characters and the stories that make Scotland one of the top tourism destinations in the world.

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We are in an enviable position. 2014 is an amazing, unique year for Scottish tourism which should never be underestimated. And it won’t simply be the standard of the accommodation, the shops or the food and drink that will get people to return again and again – it will also be the welcome they receive across our beautiful country.

I say Scotland is in an enviable position, because recent research of our key overseas markets has shown that 98 per cent of visitors say they were made to feel welcome on their holiday to Scotland – whether they are from Australia, America, Germany or France.

It’s an impressive statistic, because it means that we are well-placed to welcome the world this year – but we cannot and must not rest on our laurels. We’ve seen the Games Makers improve how people feel about London, and we can replicate this with the energy and enthusiasm generated by our Commonwealth Games Clydesiders and Ryder Cup volunteers, who will provide a dazzling welcome during these two globally significant sporting events. However, there must be a sustained effort from people across Scotland to present the country in the best possible light.

The “welcome” is in the top five reasons why people come to Scotland, both from the international markets and from the UK. And it really is local people that make the difference to that experience. In research from international markets, nearly 70 per cent of visitors said that interaction with local people significantly added to their holiday experience. VisitScotland Information Centres were specifically mentioned as being a source of that interaction, but of course the local pubs, hotels, events and shops can also make a major difference.

With personal endorsements and word-of-mouth overtaking other channels for recommendations of what to do while in the country, friendly contact with local people is becoming more and more important.

People come to Scotland for a variety of reasons and the scenery, history and culture top the list as they make the trip to perhaps research their ancestry, or soak up our world famous castles, landscapes and attractions. They love to visit this country because they want to join in with the Scots and really taste our way of life first hand.

In 2014 we have the opportunity of a lifetime to showcase our stunning country. The upcoming excitement of the Commonwealth Games and Ryder Cup has been well documented and will provide a worldwide showcase of Scotland like never before. And we are lucky enough to have our second year of Homecoming in 2014 as well. This time there will be a record-breaking 430 events in every corner of Scotland and in every month of the year. It’s an opportunity for local people to enjoy the best of Scotland and showcase their area to visitors from across the world. From John Muir to whisky, from music to art, Scotland will be the place to be in 2014.

We started last year being voted the top place to visit in 2013 by CNN, and the Lonely Planet also put us in the top three of places to visit in the world in 2014 – and this month, the New York Times singled Scotland out as one of the top 52 places in the world to visit this year.

Our cities are also being singled out as top European destinations and we are achieving worldwide recognition for our tourism industry and the amazing things to see and do – so let’s use this as the launch pad for major success in the decade to come.

It will take every man, woman and child here to ensure a special push to put out the welcome mat. It will require every bartender, taxi driver, retail assistant, hotelier, musician and artist to play their part – but most of all it’s up to all the people to give that authentic Scottish welcome.

• Mike Cantlay is chair of VisitScotland